Paul Browne on the songstress behind the dramatic ending theme
Unless you’ve been living beneath a rock these past few years, it would have been impossible not to acknowledge the popularity of Attack on Titan – the hugely popular anime series that has inspired everything from TV adverts to armies of cosplayers.
The dramatic opening theme music by Linked Horizon has become one of the most recognisable anime themes of recent years. But the ending theme, by Yoko Hikasa, is a much more subtle affair. ‘Utsukushiki Zankoku na Sekai’ (This Beautiful Cruel World) is, on the whole, a wistful and enigmatic song that seems strangely disconnected from a series that regularly deals with death and despair. Yoko Hikasa’s mesmerising vocals manage to draw the viewer in, lending an air of reflection and regret.
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If the name of Yoko Hikasa sounds familiar then perhaps it’s her connection to the equally popular anime K-On!, in which Yoko played the role of bassist Mio Akiyama. K-On!, of course, focused on the life and times of a high school band so it seems appropriate to include musically inclined actors. This is certainly evident on such iconic songs as ‘Don’t Say “Lazy”’ and ‘Fuwa Fuwa Time’, both of which carry Yoko’s distinctive vocal style. This, naturally, isn’t that unusual in an industry that’s known for adopting musicians or for crafting their skills in-house. It’s a path that’s brought us the talents of Yui Horie (Love Hina, Toradora!) and Aya Hirano (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) in the past.
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Born in 1985, Yoko Hikasa had first been inspired to step into the world of voice acting by the classic anime Sailor Moon. As a result, she enrolled in a voice acting school and later landed her first anime acting role in 2007’s Sketchbook ~full color’s~ series.
Yoko has built up an impressive CV of anime titles since including Toradora!, Code Geass, Flowers Of Evil, Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt and Free. Yoko also delved into an assortment of video game roles, including a part in Final Fantasy XIII-2.
But it was her role as Mio Akiyama in 2009’s K-On! that allowed Yoko to stretch her musical ambitions, reflected in the various soundtracks and character albums the series spawned. Take the infectious melodies of ending theme ‘Don’t Say “Lazy”’, featuring Yoko on vocals, which managed to shift 67,000 copies as a single release and made 2nd place in the Oricon weekly singles charts. ‘Don’t Say “Lazy”’ also landed the Animation Kobe’s ‘Best Song’ award.
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Yoko is also a member of the 5-piece pop outfit Ro-Kyu-Bu!, based on the anime series of the same name (the band members all voice the main characters in the show). Their first single ‘Shoot!’, which forms the opening theme of Ro-Kyu-Bu! was released in 2011 with an album arriving the same year. Yoko also starred in the anime series Occult Academy, which gave her an opportunity to cover the classic Morning Musume song LOVE Machine.
Honing her musical skills along this particular route, it wasn’t long before Yoko began to look at a solo music career. Her first single in 2013 was, fittingly ‘Utsukushiki Zankoku na Sekai’ from Attack On Titan, which managed to reach the top 10 in the Oricon charts. A follow-up single, the gentle acoustics of ‘Owaranai Shi’, which was the theme song for the anime film Hal, arrived soon after.
Yoko’s debut album Glamorous Songs was released in July 2013 and presented a collage of up-tempo tunes, including ‘Glamorous days’ – a boisterous pop-rock composition that mixed in a discordant piano melody, frenetic strings and guitars, through to the strident electronic beats of ‘Rhythm Linkage’. The album also managed a fairly respectful No. 11 position in the charts.
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For her 2014 follow-up album Couleur, Yoko combined original songs with some of her anime themes, which included her Attack on Titan contribution as well as the bubbly melodies of ‘Seek Diamonds’ (from Ace of Diamond) and the dramatic electro-trash of ‘EX:FUTURIZE’ (the opening theme to Z/X IGNITION).
Like many of her contemporaries, Yoko continues to balance a musical career with continuing voice acting roles – including in recent times parts in Sword Art Online II, Pokemon XY and High School D x D born. It’s difficult to imagine trumping iconic roles such as K-On!’s Mio – or indeed contributing to such a smash hit as Attack on Titan, but considering Yoko Hikasa’s track record so far, nothing should surprise us.
Attack on Titan is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.